The Detective Wore Silk Drawers

The Detective Wore Silk Drawers by Peter Lovesey

Book: The Detective Wore Silk Drawers by Peter Lovesey Read Free Book Online
Authors: Peter Lovesey
opponent spanned the ring and was touching his feet. Vibart and D’Estin worked vigorously at his thighs and calves. Around the ring, but at a decent distance, the spectators waited, some seated, others in groups, all with mugs in hand. There was no tension here, no scramble to place bets. This was a local affair and if money changed hands, it was between friends. The crowd was small for a fist fight—perhaps eighty—and not much more than the usual attendance at the Fox on a Saturday.
    Jago examined his hands. They were well prepared for their ordeal, hardened by vinegar and lemon, nails trimmed, knuckles greased. He was feeling fitter than he had all week, after forty-eight hours without aperients. And what he had lost in excess flesh he had replaced in muscle fibre.
    The difficulty lay in forcing himself to believe he was actually about to toe the scratch for a knuckle fight, to flout the law he had been trained to uphold. After a week at Radstock Hall even Sergeant Cribb seemed a remote figure, as alien to this setting as his boxing coach at school. Certainly there was no sign of Cribb or Thackeray among the crowd. What would happen if the fight was raided by the local police, and they arrested him? Could Cribb intervene, or would the law take its course? Was the expulsion of one constable from the force a matter worth sacrificing all their investigations for? Hadn’t Thackeray himself suggested Cribb was callous towards his subordinates? He was a strange man, this Sergeant Cribb, and inspiring in his way; Jago wished he knew him well enough to trust him.
    It was easier in this strange mood to believe that he was fighting for Mrs. Vibart than Cribb. Mrs? It was Isabel from now on, she had told him when she came to the gym to see his final limbering that afternoon. “You are fighting for me, Henry Jago,” she had said in that allusive way, inviting him to speculate on her meaning. “I know that you will not disappoint me.” And she had put forward her hand and pressed his forearm. Little wonder that Cribb was fading as a source of inspiration.
    “Will the two antagonists and attendants come to the scratch, please?”
    To confirm the dreamlike nature of this experience, the referee was the landlord of the Fox. Jago was quite prepared for his opponent, whose face had been in shadow, to be Lydia’s Papa, attended by the curate from St. Martin’s. Instead the man who stepped forward was a total stranger, Jago’s height, but broader in the chest and bronzed from work in the fields. Instead of boxing drawers he wore flannel longjohns artfully adapted, but obvious for what they were. If anyone felt uncomfortable it was Jago in the expensive white silk drawers Isabel had provided.
    “Mr. Jago?” said the landlord. “We know each other, of course. This ’ere is Luke Judd from Benson’s farm.” The rivals nodded in recognition. “As to the rules, gentlemen, they are according to the London Prize-Ring, last amended 1866. Thirty seconds between rounds, and when I call ‘Time’ you ’ave eight seconds to get to scratch unaided. No butting, gouging, biting, kicking or tearing the flesh with the fingernails. And no seizing of your antagonist below the waist or belting ’im when ’e’s down. A man’s down when ’e’s got one knee and one ’and on the ground, and don’t let me see no deliberate falling on each other. Seconds and bot-tle’olders keep outside the ring until someone goes down. Then you can lift your man to ’is corner. The final matter to mention is that the referee gets five per cent of the takings, by the usual arrangements. No questions? Good. Retire to your corners and wait for the call of ‘Time.’ ”
    Everyone but the two fighters climbed out through the ropes. The imminence of action brought even the serious drinkers from the bar. Jago caught the surprised glance of one of the regulars. Last week he had been one of the window-seat group.
    A light breeze fluttered the colours tied to

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